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Wind power project applicant seeks reconsideration; Opponents, too

Five parties to the Whistling Ridge Energy Project’s site certification proceedings have filed petitions for reconsideration with the state agency that last month recommended the wind power project’s approval.

Applicant Whistling Ridge Energy Partners, LLC, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Inc., Save Our Scenic Area and Seattle Audubon Society separately, and Skamania County and the Klickitat County Public Economic Development Authority jointly, have asked the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to reconsider its Oct. 6 recommendation. The council, during a special meeting in Stevenson, voted 6-0 to recommend approval of a 75-megawatt project with modifications and conditions.

The modifications included the elimination of three wind turbine strings – or 15 of 50 proposed turbines – from the project “to avoid impacts to the Columbia River Gorge,” the council said in an Oct. 7 news release.

According to the council, parties had 20 days following publication of the decision to file their requests for reconsideration. The parties now have until Nov. 14 to reply to each other.

“It’s hard to say how long the council will take to review the petitions and responses and announce a decision on reconsideration, but I suspect it will be at least three weeks, maybe longer,” said Nathan Baker, staff attorney for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

The roughly $150 million Whistling Ridge Energy Project – a joint venture between SDS Lumber Co. and Broughton Lumber Co. – would be built out over 1,152 acres of private commercial timberland in southeastern Skamania County, to the west and northwest of Underwood. If licensed and built, Whistling Ridge would be the state’s first wind farm on commercial forest lands.

During seven public hearings held on the Whistling Ridge application, more than 200 citizens testified, according to the council. “The most contentious issue was the effect the wind turbines would have on the views in the Columbia Gorge,” the council’s Oct. 7 announcment stated.

As part of its decision to recommend site certification, the council axed the three turbine strings that would have been the most visible from Columbia Gorge viewing areas.

The Enterprise contacted Jason Spadaro, president of Whistling Ridge Energy, by e-mail Monday but did not receive any official statements prior to the publication deadline.

The petition filed by the Friends, said Baker, asks the council, among other issues, “to reconsider whether the project is consistent with local land use authorities, whether the applicant has completed the required wildlife surveys, and how to reduce and mitigate the scenic, traffic, noise and other impacts of the project.”

Baker said the reconsideration process allows the council to address issues that the parties care about before the recommendation package is forwarded to the governor. “We’re hopeful that the council will reconsider and revise its recommendation as a result of our petition,” he added.

Once she receives that package, Gov. Christine Gregoire will have 60 days to “approve the application and execute the agreement, reject the application, or ask the council to reconsider [its] recommendation,” the council stated on Oct. 7.

Next week The Enterprise will follow-up with a detailed review of each petition.